Sunday, March 02, 2008



Back from the 31st Annual US Crossword Puzzle Championship, for the first time having been held in Brooklyn, NY after 30 years in Stamford, Connecticut having outgrown that venue. 699 contestants this year.

I was rolling right along through the first six (out of seven) puzzles, all solved on Saturday. When the posting of the standings through that point was made available, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in 21st place as I'd finished 43rd last year and hadn't been that close to the teens in a while. It was partly due to having successfully grappled with Puzzle #5, a vicious beast wherein notes of the solfegge scale that appeared in a phrase were "raised" to the next note and clued appropriately. So "muscle tic" became "muscle doc" and "solo concert" changed to "lao concert". This central theme entirely escaped me but I managed to finish it accurately anyway. The seventh was this morning and I thought I'd aced that one as well, only to come home, check the final posting of scores and discover that I'd made an error. Looking over the puzzle in question, I'm pretty sure that for "Egyptian god" (six letters), I'd blithely written in "Amon Ra" instead of "Amen Ra", without checking the crossing (opes, not "opos"). Dammit. I rarely see or hear "Amen Ra" and almost always encounter either "Amon Ra" or "Amun Ra". *grumble*

This slid me down to 29th, still a very decent placing but the mistake cost me 18th, which would've been really nice.

btw, many visitors here will be amused to know that one puzzle featured, entirely innocently, two crossing clue answers that were each names of ensembles of which Mr. Rowe has been a member: Amalgam and MIMEO. Why they weren't clued as such baffles me.

But, as always, more than half the pleasure of the weekend, substantially more, was getting to hang with an extraordinary group of people like Dan and Larry Okrent, George Rosenfeld, Leigh Newman, Joshua Kosman. (Joshua, who's a classical critic for the SF Chronicle, told me about a composer he's very hot on, Derek Bermel. Anyone heard him?) Just wonderful, wonderful folk.

21 comments:

Richard Pinnell said...

Brian, what language was that post in?

Well done anyway :)

Jon said...

"I rarely see or hear "Amen Ra" and almost always encounter either "Amon Ra" or "Amun Ra". *grumble*"

just curious, what would you estimate the frequency of these encounters at? :)

anyway, that is lame, I'd be surprised if you couldn't file a protest if you thought you were right and the difference was important to you.

Brian Olewnick said...

No, no, no. Even if there are three or more acceptable variations on Amon Ra, the crossing still has to work. In this case the clue was "Uncovers, poetically" (4), the answer being "OPES". My "AMONRA" produced "OPOS" which, by any definition, is wrong. That's that.

Maybe it was Amon Duul" that threw me off.

Derek Taylor said...

Congrats, Brian, 29th out of 699 ain't nothin' to sneer at. My crossword prowess doesn't extend much beyond the "puzzles" found in my mom's People magazine subscription. :(

Could you recommend any books/articles on the subculture? (guessing you already have, but don't find them readily available).

Brian Olewnick said...

I think there's a book or two out there, though I've not read any. I would recommend, though, renting "Wordplay". It's an excellent documentary and gives a fair picture (the good to the ultra-geeky) of the xword world. Dan's in there as a talking head. My back makes a brief appearance or two. Really worth watching, even if you have next to no interest in the subject.

Anonymous said...

see Derek Bermal's weblog at:

http://www.derekbermel.blogspot.com/

Herb Levy said...

Congrats on doing so well this year. It's hard to imagine completing all of that 5th puzzle without sussing out the theme, but hey, apparently it worked out for you.

I'd be surprised if there was much in Bermel's music to interest you. I've only heard a few solo piano pieces and they were "modern" with touches of pop music (blues, r&b, maybe some jazz, I don't remember a lot of details) forms.

Matt Mitchell said...

wow, I guess that's what you mean by 'pretty damn fair', huh? Good lord. I guess my Scrabble fate is sealed.

Steve said...

Brian, out of curiosity what are your fellow cruciverbalists like? I ask that having played duplicate bridge a few times among the most dysfunctional people that I've ever observed not behind bars or with physical restraints. If I were on a jury and found out that a serial killer was exposed to duplicate, I'd at least be a bit sympathetic toward him/her as I voted for the death penalty.

Brian Olewnick said...

Herb, Did you solve on-line? Yeah, the idea of someting to do with the musical scale flitted into my head when I began the puzzle (the title was "Up-Scale", iirc) but just as quickly flitted out. I worked my way through, slowly but fairly steadily, pausing here and there to try and understand the theme answers. Couldn't do it but 3/4 convinced myself that I had it right anyway, leaving with the fear that I'd totally blown it by not putting in some oddly configured entry.

And I sorta get that impression of Bermel myself (not having heard a thing, let me add)

Steve, (I'm embarrassed to ask> which Steve?) my usual caricature is of a pale, bloated creature who emerges from their hole once a year having done nothing but crosswords in the interim, blinks a few times at the daylight, then trundles off to the tournament. That's probably become less and less true over the years, but that ilk is still way over-represented. Again, check out "Wordplay" for a decent picture.

But--and it's a big but--there's a small minority of absolutely amazing people with a surprising amount of shared interests. When I first met Joshua in, I think, 1984, Linda's mouth was agape as we went back and foth on arcane interest we both shared, from avant-garde jazz to baseball stats to Hofstadter's "Godel, Escher, Bach" etc. She didn't think there was another dork around like me.

I'd already been a roto fool and had seen reviews of jazz albums by Okrent, thinking, "Hmmm...interesting guy with both these interests." Then he goes and show up at an xword tourney. Caramba!

Steve said...

(I'm embarrassed to ask> which Steve?)
CH. Should I id myself as such in the future?

Brian Olewnick said...

No, I figured as much but the relative lack vituperation was giving me pause. ;-)

matt mitchell said...

baseball stats, you say. aweoms, that used to be one of my things, before music took over. Now, we're talking like 20 years go, so I've forgotten a bunch of them , but not everything, though. Are you a Bill James fan?

matt mitchell said...

sorry, I meant awesome. 'aweoms' could have been one of your puzzle answers...

Brian Olewnick said...

Oh yeah. I was getting James' newsletter around 1982, I think, and kept up with him through the late 90s; a big fan of all that stuff. Still keep up with it to an extent. George Rosenfeld and I were discussing Knut Hamsun over the weekend and I opined that I was likely the only person around who had an order into Amazon for both Hamsun's "Hunger" and the 2008 Baseball Prospectus book.

Brian Olewnick said...

Amazon order arrived yesterday (the 3rd item was John Crowley's "Little, Big"). Fun leafing through about half the BP book last night.

Ellen said...

I also never got the theme on Puzzle 5, but luckily it was right (the lower left almost killed me). And I never saw you or the Okrents. Too many people.

Brian Olewnick said...

Hey Ellen, nice to see you here. Sorry I didn't bump into you over the weekend but, as you say, there were many, many people. Congrats on another fine finish. As we *cough* get on in years, it's interesting to see who maintains their former level and who begins to slide.

Also Interesting that you didn't get the theme for #5 either. I was wondering whether most of the tip-top solvers saw that immediately or not. I heard a few afterwards saying it was the case which didn't surprise me. I don't think not knowing cost me time in terms of staring at nonsensical answers, though, as I was fairly confidant of the crosses, but certainly sussing it out earlier would've lead to quicker fills.

Jon said...

http://www.nypress.com/21/10/
news&columns/feature3.cfm

Brian Olewnick said...

Ooh, just checked the standings to see where someone else finished and saw I'd somehow advanced to 28th! I guess a recheck found an error in someone's puzzle who had been ahead of me.

Jon said...

nice, by the time the next one comes around, you'll be defending champion! :)